Wallpaper Wednesday: Josh Tons, Loenbro Motorsports
For the next few editions of Wallpaper Wednesday, we’ll be shining the spotlight on some of the photographers who work for top Red Bull GRC race teams. First up is Josh Tons, who shoots for Steve Arpin and Loenbro Motorsports. Check out our interview with him below:
I’m gonna start you with the hardest question I’ve got… if you had to pick a single shot from the season as your number one, which one would it be and why?
Man, that’s a tough one. I guess I’d have to go with the head on shot from Seattle of Steve’s car in the Eneos livery (DOWNLOAD: Desktop | Mobile). Seattle’s always a difficult track to shoot because it’s such a compact layout. As team photographer for Loenbro Motorsports, the fact that we struggled through that weekend kind of provided a little bit of extra emotional level to my images. That image is kind of my go to, because the background is so dark and the car is so bright and orange that it just brings out that emotion we all felt throughout that weekend.
So this was your first year with Loenbro, but not your first in the series by any stretch… take us back through your timeline. When was your first GRC race, and how did you climb your way into your current spot with the team?
My first GRC race was Las Vegas 2014 when I shot for a small media publication that followed IMSA and GRC. I had been shooting stage rally for 4-5 years prior to 2014 and wanted to get involved with something different, something new. I returned in 2015 shooting for that media publication, and after the first couple events I befriended Patrik Sandell and the Bryan Herta Rallysport organization. I worked with Collete (Davis) for a little as the season progressed, and then was brought on as the team photographer in 2016 for Patrik Sandell in addition to working with DirtFish and CORE autosport.
Following the 2016 season Patrik moved on to Subaru and I was kind of up in the air as to what I wanted to do. I had been talking to Steve off and on throughout the off-season trying to get something figured out. He told me to come to Memphis and we would sit down and figure thing outs. I met him in the parking lot the day before Memphis while trucks were getting ready for load-in and we put together an idea. I began the season still shooting for CORE until their decision to withdraw from the series. It was at that point that Steve inquired as to me taking a bigger responsibility so following the Atlantic City race I transitioned into the Digital Content/Social Media Manager role for Loenbro Motorsports. This role allows me to take charge of all digital content and social media for the Loenbro Motorsports team and for Steve personally. I get to work directly with our partners, various media outlets, and most importantly Steve’s fans.
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Obviously that’s a lot of change in three years. I can imagine that, likewise, your style has evolved a bit from your debut to now. Is there anything major that you’ve changed from that first GRC race to today? Whether it’s just equipment, or even a full-blown change in how you approach a race weekend…
Everything has changed. I came in to GRC shooting an entirely different way. As I was shooting for media publication it was less about creativity and more about just getting straight on shots to use for various stories. As I began working for the teams directly, it gave me more flexibility to be creative and to do different things. I’ve taken a lot of what I’ve seen other photographers doing, like Alex Wong, Larry Chen, Louis Yio and Camden Thrasher, and have tried to develop my own unique style. These are the photographers I look up to and really admire.
Obviously I have upgraded my equipment three or four times over the past few years as I continue to solidify my collection of equipment. I’m no Larry Chen, but I think at this point I’m up to four or five camera bodies and eight or nine camera lenses.
Coming into a weekend the first thing I do is a track walk to understand the track and the various angles that are offered. I like to communicate directly with Steve and our partners to identify what exactly they’re looking for from the weekend and I base my shot list off of that. I tend to see where other photographers are going and go the opposite direction. I’ve noticed that over the years, you get a lot of the same photos as other team photographers, but the photos that really stand out are the ones that are unique from totally obscure angles.
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It’s funny that you bring up Steve there—as a driver and general manager, he’s already in a uniquely hands-on position compared to other drivers, but I’m sure it’s interesting to get feedback from him on the image side as well. What kinds of things are you always hearing from him? As the reigning Fan Favorite Driver, his popularity is well established… is there anything different that you see from him compared to any other driver that you try to focus in on during a race weekend?
The feedback I usually receive from Steve is mainly make sure it looks like I’m going fast or make sure it looks like I’m jumping really high! Steve will admit this and I laugh about it all the time we talk about shots. I remember in Memphis he made the comment to me “I don’t know anything about social media or photography, but I have 100% faith in you and your abilities to make me look cool.”
From Steve, it’s less about the images themselves and more about obtaining specific shots that can help our partners promote the sport and their products. When we get together for a shot list we talk about, for example, one sponsor wants a head on shot for this social media post or SCT Performance is looking for this shot so they can create a banner for a trade show.
The biggest thing I’ve noticed working with Steve that is different than any other driver is his interaction with fans. He is determined to make sure everybody around our paddock is happy and having a good time. He goes out of his way to interact with kids and to make sure the kids are having an experience that they will remember forever. As you know, he’s an ambassador for KOA Care Camps, which sends kids fighting cancer to camp so that they can experience what it’s like to just be a kid. Having conversations with Steve on this topic, he gets emotional because we take a lot for granted. These kids are just kids that are having to deal with this horrible situations and all Steve wants is to make them happy and make sure that they’re having a good time.
Two more and we’ll wrap… I know that, working with Steve, he and the 00 car are going to be your focus most of the weekend. But I know you don’t necessarily just keep it to him when you’re out on track. Whether it’s in or out of the car, who else in the series, past or present, have you enjoyed shooting the most?
I have to say shooting Patrik or Tanner (Foust). I only shot Tanner for two events in 2016 but I had a lot of fun, and those Beetles do look good in photos. Patrik is always fun to shoot, too. It might be my Subaru ownership bias playing a part, but his car always looks good and he is guaranteed to throw up some rooster tails in the dirt sections.
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For sure! Last one for you… as you look forward to the 2018 season and when we announce the schedule, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, what’s the one venue you absolutely want to go back to, and why?
Los Angeles! The backdrop is gorgeous and if we run somewhat into the evening you get up awesome backlit shot of the cars going over the jump—that is, if the jump stays in the same spot it has the last two years. Plus, we’re always treated to incredible sunrises and sunsets over the Pacific.
Photo credit: Josh Tons